Glendalough

St Kevin had the gift of talking with beasts.
It came naturally to him, a hermit,
Living amongst them in his hollow tree
In Glendalough, long vale of icy lakes.

But just because he and they could converse
Doesn’t mean that everything went smoothly.
“Let me milk you,” he said, “so that I can
Subsist on a diet of doe’s milk and sage.”

She sprang latterally up the heathered hill.
“Absolutely not; never. That’s invasive,
Embarrassing, probably painful, strange.
Find something else to drink, or go back to your kind.”

“Modesty forbids,” he said, “that I
Should apply the word to myself, yet ‘saintly,’
Surely, is the term that simple truth demands.
Didn’t you see how, when they’d gnawed bare the bones

And longed for more–my human multitude–
I had only to pray; then juicy meat reclothed
Each rib that they had stripped to white? I am
listened to; you’d be wise to do what I say.”

But she was gone, her dappled flanks just shimmers
In the fluttering lushness, the cool dampness,
The extravagant, multitudinous greenness
Of the breezy glen with its two clear lakes.

A red fox spoke up. “Large mammals are warned,”
Said he, “to be in their dens or burrows
By nightfall and to avoid all noises
That might disturb or fright the smaller kind.

“Also: no kindling fires or leaving picked bones
In piles, no uncovered waste, odd chanting,
Spitting in the loughs, marching right though nests,
Shouting, shooting, or walking on the grass.”

St Kevin understood where this was headed.
It wasn’t just his personal repute
He had to worry about. There was also
His ministry to pagans and sinners.

He gathered the wary beasts in a ring.
“I’ll live humbly in my hollow tree, making
No demands, restricting my human flock
To the upper vale and ringing their buildings

“With stone walls, as much to hem them in
As your kind out. Let’s just keep today amongst
Ourselves, shall we? Let the story be that Kevin,
Renouncing the world, spoke the tongues of beasts

In Glendalough, that broad, still vale, where leaves
Of every green tremble when the soft rain falls.”

(See also: the scholar and his dog ; for Gerard Manley Hopkins; and The Cliff-Top Monastery by A.B. Jackson)

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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